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Petition title

Talking Points

Convince the curious, perhaps unknowing, doubtful or hostile listeners about the need for real change in US drug and sentencing laws. Remember, in almost any group of people, there will be one or two individuals who will be certain to challenge what you say. For these people, you prepare!

You've conscientiously read the Petition for Relief from Drug War Injustice, and you're now ready to 'go public' and ask people to sign in support of early release for eligible federal prisoners.

1. Reliable opinions polls (Pew and ACLU most prominently) taken in 1999, indicate almost 75% of US citizens already understand that the war on drugs' policies are failing or failed. This same percentage of people believes that time served in prison should be guided by ideals of rehabilitation. This single point should be made at each opportunity to remind listeners that our reform ideals for changes in sentencing law are actually majority opinion in the United States at this time. All signers of the Petition for Relief should be made aware that they're part of an emerging majority opinion across the country.

2. Confining people in prisons is "bad economics." Numerous studies demonstrate the savings in dollars when prison is not used as a first resort by courts of criminal law. Putting drug law violators in prison, at a rough cost of $25,000 per year is a waste of money. There are approximately a half million people confined under mandatory drug law sentences. Some people call restoring "earned, early release" within the Federal Bureau of Prisons "as bringing back parole." This "Talking Point" can be made to show that the ideas in the Petition for Relief are nothing new. The use of parole, or early release, is "good economics," especially in these times. For more information about why new prisons, and lengthy incarceration rates see No New Prisons, a project of the November Coalition and other allied groups.

3. Federal prisons are 31% over capacity, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Overcrowded federal prisons are a human rights debacle, not yet brought to light.

4. If prisoners know that when sentenced they can 'earn their freedom' under new laws promoting early release, most will embrace the opportunity. In a renewed atmosphere of hope for a future, everything about life in a prison community could change. Most individuals would focus on self-improvement, including staff who may need re-education in humane aspects of caring for confined people. With emphasis on getting out early, fewer prisoners will risk bad behavior behind bars. Staff and people incarcerated will be safer.

5. Allowing eligible prisoners to earn their way home is the American Way. One of our nation's most sacred ideals demands that an individual "earn a living," or "do it my way." The mass incarceration policies in force today are definitely not in the American Way tradition of individual achievement by hard work and sacrifice.

6. Insist that we the US people will not tolerate the ugly fact that the United States is world's leading jailer. The ideals of freedom and the American Way do not square up well when considering that with only 5% of the world's population, the US prison systems hold 25% of the world's prisoners.

7. Mandatory, mass incarceration of drug law violators has negatively affected millions of children who are related to the person sentenced. When that person is a mother or father, the trauma experienced by the child causes a multitude of emotional and incomprehensible problems for everyone. Overuse of prison, without hope of early release, condemns these children for their parents' actual or alleged actions. What can be fair about this?

8. It's the religious 'right thing to do.' Christians, Muslims and Jews, among other faiths, believe in the power of redemption. Mandatory and guideline sentencing policies in force today in US prison systems do not reflect this belief. There are few federal and state prisons where we can show how this belief in the power of individual change should happen and be accepted by authority while someone is in close custody. Ordinary citizens want to believe that prison can be a place of reflection for lawbreakers. This reflection and consequent desire to change has little meaning for the future under current release policies which demand that prisoners serve 85% of their sentence before officials even consider their eligibility for release.

9. Earned, early release should not be thought of as being "soft on those bad guys." The current determinate system of mandatory sentences is actually "soft on bad guys." Many prisoners appreciate no official demand on them to reflect and change from a criminal lifestyle. For these individuals it would be "hard" policy for them to 'go along with the program' of earned, early release.

10. For ideas on places you can share these talking points, visit Bottoms Up, a Guide to Grassroots Activism, and November's Projects today.

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